Biden signs executive order to try to help low-income women pay for abortions if they have to cross state lines

President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order that his administration says will help low-income people pay for abortion services if they have to travel out of state to obtain them.

The order, administration officials say, paves the way for Medicaid to cover abortion-related costs for people who have traveled from states where their abortion is banned to states where it is not. .

But Biden and other officials on Wednesday offered few details about how the change will work — or a timeline for implementing it.

“Today I am signing the second executive order that responds to the health care crisis that has unfolded since the Supreme Court struck down Roe [v. Wade] and that women face all over America,” he said at a White House event.

It was still unclear how this change in Medicaid coverage would avoid legal tangles with the Hyde Amendment, a federal law that prohibits federal government money from being spent on abortion except for rape, incest and to save the life of the pregnant person.

Already, those covered by Medicaid have extremely limited abortion coverage in 34 states and the District of Columbia, while only 16 states use their own funds to help with Medicaid abortion coverage.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday that the order “will not violate the Hyde Amendment,” but she did not elaborate.

Biden’s order directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to pursue those changes, and Jean-Pierre deferred specific questions about how the change would work at that agency.

HHS spokespersons did not provide additional details when asked by ABC News, and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra did not mention potential changes to Medicaid coverage when he spoke. speak after Biden at Wednesday’s event, which was the first meeting of an interagency task force launched by Biden in the wake of the Supreme Court reversing Roe in June.

The new guidance allows Becerra “to invite states to seek Medicaid waivers so that states where abortion is legal can provide services to people traveling from a state where abortion may be illegal to seek services in their state,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Technically, these states would apply through what’s called a Medicaid 1115 waiver.

The official noted that when the White House considered declaring a public health emergency for abortion and what that would allow the federal government to do, that change brought to Medicaid – a patient medical expense assistance program low-income – was one of the options. But the White House realized the president could also do it through an executive order.

President Joe Biden speaks virtually during the first meeting of the Interagency Task Force on Access to Reproductive Health Care at the White House complex in Washington, DC on August 3, 2022.

Susan Walsh/AP

The timing of these changes, however, remains uncertain.

On Wednesday, ABC News’ chief White House correspondent Cecilia Vega pressed Jean-Pierre for more details on the implementation of the executive order for women who want abortions soon.

“Are we talking days, are we talking weeks, are we talking six months?” Vega asked.

Jean-Pierre said the administration “didn’t have the details to share today but [HHS] We’ll know more about what a waiver might look like and the timeline soon.”

Biden’s order also directs HHS to ensure that “health care providers comply with federal non-discrimination laws so that women receive medically necessary care without delay,” according to the White House. This could include “providing technical assistance to healthcare providers who may be confused or unsure of their obligations as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling.” [on Roe]”, or provide other information and advice to suppliers on their obligations and the consequences of failing to comply with anti-discrimination laws.

The order further directs the secretary of HHS to improve research and data collection on maternal health outcomes, according to the White House.

Speaking broadly about the state of reproductive rights, Biden reflected on the past few weeks on Wednesday, calling it “a critical time when women’s health and lives are on the line amid the chaos and uncertainty unleashed by this decision.” .

His executive order comes just a day after abortion rights activists secured a major victory in Kansas, where voters overwhelmingly rejected removing abortion rights from the state constitution on Tuesday.

Biden said the U.S. Supreme Court “virtually dared the women of this country to go to the polls and restore the right to choose that the Court just snatched from them after 50 years.”

“Kansas voters have sent a strong signal that this fall the American people will vote to preserve and protect the right and refuse to let it be wrested from politicians,” Biden said.